End lawlessness of Guantanamo: Amnesty

Campaign News | Monday, 12 June 2006

Human rights group calls for full investigation into suicides

London, 11 June: Amnesty International on Sunday called on the United States to 'end the lawlessness' of its facility for security suspects at Guantanamo Bay after three detainees committed suicide.

The London-based human rights group also called for the results of the investigation into the deaths to be made public and both the inmates' families and their lawyers informed.

"The news that three detainees in Guantanamo have died as a result of apparent suicide is a further tragic reminder that the USA must end the lawlessness of the facility," it said in a statement.

"There have been numerous suicide attempts in the detention camp. These are apparently the first that have been successful."

The group reiterated its call for the US-run camp in Cuba to be shut and for Washington to disclose fully all other prisoners detained as part of the so-called 'war on terror.'

It also renewed its appeal for a full, independent commission of inquiry into all aspects of US detention and interrogation policies and practices with security suspects.

The calls were backed by the Muslim Council of Britain, the country's main umbrella group for Islamic organisations, which said the deaths were not an 'asymmetrical act of war,' as the United States has claimed.

Instead, it said they were an 'act of absolute desperation.'

"These men had been kept in a legal limbo for several years now with no charges being brought against them, with no chance to clear their names before a court of law," said its secretary-general Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari.


Guantanamo suicides were 'PR stunt' says US official

A top US official has described the suicides of three detainees at the US base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as a "good PR move to draw attention".

Colleen Graffy told the BBC World Service the deaths were part of a strategy and "a tactic to further the jihadi cause", and that taking their own lives was "unnecessary."

But lawyers say the men who hanged themselves had been driven by despair.

A military investigation into the deaths is under way, amid growing calls for the centre to be moved or closed.

Speaking to the BBC's Newshour programme, Ms Graffy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, said the three men did not value their lives nor the lives of those around them.

Detainees had access to lawyers, received mail and had the ability to write to families, so had other means of making protests, she said, and it was hard to see why the men had not protested about their situation.

The remarks followed that of the base commander who said earlier that he regarded the suicides as "an act of war."

The men, two Saudis and a Yemeni, were found "unresponsive and not breathing" by guards on Saturday morning, said officials.

They were in separate cells in Camp One, the highest security section of the prison.

There have been dozens of suicide attempts since the camp was set up four years ago - but none successful until now.

Ken Roth, head of Human Rights Watch in New York, told the BBC the men had probably been driven by despair.

"These people are despairing because they are being held lawlessly," he said.

"There's no end in sight. They're not being brought before any independent judges. They're not being charged and convicted for any crime."

That view was supported by British Muslim Moazzam Begg who spent three years in Guantanamo. He said of the camp's inmates: "They're in a worse situation than convicted criminals and it's an act of desperation."

But earlier, the camp commander, Rear Adm Harris said he did not believe the men had killed themselves out of despair.

"They are smart. They are creative, they are committed," he said.

"They have no regard for life, either ours or their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us."

US officials are facing growing international calls for the camp to be closed down.

"If it's perfectly legal and there's nothing going wrong there - well, why don't they have it in America and then the American court system can supervise it?" UK Constitutional Affairs Minister Harriet Harman told the BBC on Sunday.

But Ms Graffy said closing down Guantanamo was a "complicated process" which needed to consider what would happen to detainees if the centre was shut down.

The Cuban government has formally demanded that the US cease to use its territory for the purpose of the detainment camp. The US has illegaly occupied the base at Guantanamo since 1902 and the Cuban revolutionary government has reclaimed the territory as Cuban sovereign land since 1959.


EU to pressure US on closing Guantanamo camp

Brussels 28 May: The EU is increasing pressure on the US to close its controversial Guantanamo prison camp for terrorist suspects, saying it undermines the fight against terrorism.

The table is now cleared for confrontation with the US president George W Bush when he comes to Europe next month to attend an EU-US summit on 21 June.

EU foreign ministers agreed at a meeting in Vienna this weekend that Europe can no longer ignore the extensive international criticism of the Guantanamo camp, which currently holds around 460 prisoners.

The camp's existence undermines the west's fight against terrorism and legal principles, the ministers stated according to Danish daily Berlingske Tidende.

"We agreed to a common line, which says that the US government must take steps to close the prison as soon as possible," Danish foreign minister Per Stig Moller said according to Danmark's Radio (DR) news.

"We hold on to the fact that terrorism is a threat against our society. But in the fight against terrorism we cannot damage our own democracy and judicial institutions," he said.

The criticism agreed by the EU foreign ministers, however, is only an informal request and not an official declaration, reported DR news.

Last week, a special UN committee against torture came out with scathing criticism of the more than four year-old US policy of transporting terror suspects to the US base in Guantanamo Bay on Cuba where they are kept indefinitely without trial.

European leaders have been critical of documented abuses at Guantanamo, and human rights groups including Amnesty International have also called for the closure of the prison camp.

The US recently deflected criticism of Guantanamo from the its closest ally in Europe - the UK - saying the camp was necessary to gather those terrorists who are still a threat to the security of the United States.

Yesterday, the US also rejected claims by UK daily, the Independent, that some of the prisoners had been under age when they were first brought to the camp.


UN tells US Guantanamo torture base must close

New York 19 May: The US should shut Guantánamo Bay and give detainees access to a fair trial or release them, a UN human rights watchdog said today.

The UN committee against torture voiced concern that detainees were being held at the camp for long periods without judicial scrutiny of the reasons for their detention, adding that Guantánamo detainees had insufficient legal safeguards.

"The state party should cease to detain any person at Guantánamo Bay and close the detention facility," a committee report, published today, said.

The committee - part of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights - expressed concern over allegations that the US had established secret prisons around the world at which the international Red Cross aid agency did not have access to detainees.

The watchdog called on the US to ensure that nobody was detained in secret detention centres under its control and reveal the existence of any such facilities.

"The state party should investigate and disclose the existence of any such facilities and the authority under which they have been established and the manner in which detainees are treated," the report said.

Detainees at Guantánamo and other camps should not be returned to any countries where they could face a "real risk" of torture, the committee added.

The report said the US must "take immediate measures to eradicate all forms of torture and ill-treatment" committed by its personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq. It called on Washington to investigate allegations thoroughly, prosecuting any personnel found guilty.

Earlier this month, the US made in its first appearance before the Geneva-based committee against torture in six years.

It was called to address a series of issues ranging from Washington's interpretation of the UN's absolute ban on torture to its interrogation methods in Guantánamo and the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Photos of abuse committed by US troops at the Baghdad prison sparked international outrage, while hundreds of "enemy combatants" are still being held at Guantánamo as part of the "war on terror".

The committee said the US should halt interrogation techniques constituting torture or cruel treatment, citing methods including sexual humiliation, mock drownings and the use of dogs to induce fear.

Its report said some methods of interrogation had "resulted in the death of some detainees", and criticised vague US guidelines on the treatment of detainees that "have led to serious abuse".

US officials in Geneva have so far declined to comment on the committee's findings.

Guantánamo has been criticised by human rights campaigners and governments across the world. Earlier this month, the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, called for the immediate closure of the camp, claiming its existence was "unacceptable".

However, the Bush regime has consistently defended the treatment of detainees at the facility, insisting its existence is legal under international law.


Attorney general calls for Guantánamo to close

London 10 May: The attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, said today that Guantánamo Bay had become a "symbol of injustice" and called for the US base to be closed.

In the strongest criticism of the camp yet by a senior British official, Lord Goldsmith told a conference on global security in central London that the continued existence of the detention centre was "unacceptable".

"It is time, in my view, that it should close," he said. "I believe it would also help to remove what has become a symbol to many, right or wrong, of injustice.

"The historic tradition of the United States as a beacon of freedom, of liberty and of justice deserves the removal of this symbol."

Lord Goldsmith said the reliance of the camp on military tribunals did not meet the UK's commitment to the principle of a fair trial.

"There are certain principles on which there can be no compromise," he said.

"Fair trial is one of those, which is the reason we in the UK were unable to accept that the US military tribunals proposed for those detained at Guantánamo Bay offered sufficient guarantees of a fair trial in accordance with international standards."

He said he was "pleased to note" that the British nationals detained at the camp had been released. Up to 500 terrorist suspects are still being held at the naval base in Cuba, including five British residents.

Human rights groups welcomed Lord Goldsmith's condemnation, but Amnesty said it remained to be seen whether the UK government was prepared to put pressure on Washington to have the camp closed and to ensure the release or fair trial of all prisoners.

"After more than four years Guantánamo has become a byword for abuse and an indictment of the US government's failure to uphold human rights in the 'war on terror'," Amnesty's director, Kate Allen, said in a statement.

"It is vital that the UK use its influence to ensure that Guantánamo is closed."

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of the human rights group Liberty, called for guarantees that similar centres would not be set up to replace the Cuban base.

"Some might say that these comments are too little too late. We say that it is never too late to do and say the right thing," he said in a statement.

Nonetheless, the plugging of this 'legal black hole' will mean nothing if it is merely replaced by other secret Guantánamos all over the world."

Tony Blair, a close Washington ally, has stopped short of condemning the camp, saying only that it is an "anomaly" that will eventually have to close.


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